Friday, December 27, 2019

Being an Adult: Thoughts at 26

Here I am at the age of 26, and the fact that I'm an adult seldom crosses my mind. I’m more or less past the stage of feeling like I'm not one or wondering when I'll magically feel like I've entered adulthood and onto acceptance that being an adult is not a sudden switch from being a teenager. The two periods flow into each other, and there's never a real time when you transition between the two, even if we like to create artificial milestones to make it feel like you do.

Often, I wonder if getting married, buying a house, having kids, etc. would make me feel more like an adult. Maybe it would. I couldn’t know, but I also know that not having those things doesn’t make me less of an adult now. (Being home for Christmas and hearing what my cousins of various ages are doing now makes me even more sure of that.)

I often have to take a step back and remind myself that I’m on equal footing with the other adults around. I still feel like I should be looking to other people for guidance in any given situation. When I first started my job, just feeling like I could make suggestions to my co-workers (many of whom are my age) felt strange to me, and for a while, touching anything in the office felt forbidden. I wanted to ask for permission before touching anything.

This isn’t unique to work.

Anytime I need to be seen as an adult by strangers, I have a brief moment where I think they're going to question my age because there's no way they could look at me and see a capable adult.

Back in college and in the time after college when I was living with my parents, my parents would constantly remind me that I didn’t need to ask for permission to do things, and though I logically knew that, I kept asking as if it were an instinct I couldn’t shake off.

Perhaps I would understand that if I'd had more overbearing parents, but even my parents laughed about my inability to stop asking for permission. They gave me quite a bit of freedom as a kid and teenager anyway, so transitioning to adulthood shouldn't have been that big of a change.

And at work, one of the most frequent pieces of feedback I got in the beginning was that they wanted me to speak up more and take more initiative.

It's clear to me that a lot of this comes from my personality or, perhaps even more, my social anxiety. Reflecting on it, I realize that almost all of this comes back to how others see me, not how I see myself. I expect other people to not see me as a capable adult, and I'm hesitant to act like one sometimes because I feel as if I'll be called out for faking it.

There are other things that I believe factor into this that I don't want to throw out publicly for the first time in a post ultimately about something else, but following rules as a kid was very easy for me. I liked having clear expectations, and when I didn't know what was expected of me, I faltered. I never got detention, and when I did get in trouble, I got very panicked over it. I liked knowing what was expected of me.

Technically, there are still rules as an adult. Aside from the ever important laws I have to follow, there are rules I have to follow at work and social rules that I'm expected to follow at all times. But, in many ways, I'm still freer than I was as a kid, and part of me is terrified of that.

It's not just the rules though. As a teacher, I'm often teaching students who are older than me, which was difficult at first. During my student teaching, I had a hard time feeling like I had authority over my students (who were in high school) because I didn't feel old enough, and when I started teaching adults, I honestly had no idea how to balance the idea of "don't let them off easy if they don't do their homework" but also "they're adults, not children." I think I've gotten there, but there was a learning curve, just as there's been a learning curve to interacting with all adults since becoming one myself.

My first eight (at least in the legal sense) years of being an adult have definitely been interesting. There's essentially no way I could call myself a kid anymore. I live in a different country from my family, work full time, pay my own bills, and have plenty of student loan debt.

But it feels nothing like what child me would have imagined, which I guess is the truest thing I can say about adulthood.

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